We Are The Nightmare (2008)
US, Nuclear Blast, Melodic Technical Death Metal
I consider myself a very open minded metalhead. I try not to be prematurely judgmental with bands I’ve never heard, bands that everyone seems to hate, bands that confuse people et. al. but there is a noteworthy percentage of metal I just don’t understand. Black Metal bands described as ‘kvlt’, the majority of Power Metal, Yngwie Malmsteen and a fairly recent strain of technical death metal known as ‘Melodic Technical Death Metal’, represented by bands like Allegaeon, Vale Of Pnath and of course, Arsis. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I stopped listening to melodic death metal almost entirely around sixteen years old. Maybe the mixture of melodic and technical death metal is just fundamentally flawed to begin with. Maybe, as many fans of Arsis will no doubt tell me after reading this, I’m just a tone deaf rube with a weedly deedly fetish. I consider the last two explanations to be the least likely, but whatever the case may be, Arsis and I have never been able to see eye to eye. Not from a lack of trying mind you. I’ve listened to a fair share of their material and the closest I’ve come to appreciating their style is on their first album ‘A Celebration Of Guilt’. It wasn’t mindblowing, but I do consider it good material. It managed to strike a nice balance between the feel of melodic death metal and the intensity of tech-death. A mere two albums later and my sense of engagement is fleeting at best. I don’t fully understand why ‘We Are The Nightmare’ is so difficult to listen to, but the bizarre mixture of boredom and restlessness this release gives me is undeniable.
For some time now, I’ve used what I call the ’35 second rule’ with Arsis. ‘We Are The Nightmare’ actually helped me develop it. For the first 35 seconds of any given song on this album, my support ranges from full appreciation (0:00 – 0:16 of ‘Servants To The Night’) to mild contentment (0:17 – 0:35 of ‘Servants To The Night) to flat out groaning. (The rest of ‘Servants To The Night’) To this day, I have been unable to pinpoint the exact reason why Arsis’ latest material functions according to such a rule. The best hypothesis I have is a break down in songwriting. To use ‘Servants To The Night’ as my example yet again, the first sixteen seconds are sheer headbanging bliss. The music evokes a spiral into madness. Just as soon as the effect is almost complete however, the tone changes radically. The proceeding section is decent, but it nowhere near captures the feeling of the intro. As soon as 35 seconds have passed, the only feeling left is one of disappointment. As musically gifted as the members of Arsis are, the songwriting is much too jarring to maintain a consistent sensation. The work they’ve put into these songs has been squandered by inconsistency. In a hyper technical outfit like Viraemia or Brain Drill, formal consistency is the antagonist of their musical intentions. In a band like Arsis or Allegaeon however, the exact opposite is true. The feeling and tone of the music need to remain consistent in order to showcase the best they can do. Their songs can’t start out dark and sinister only to be hampered by a passage with no relation to the previous one.
To be clear, I don’t think Arsis is a terrible band by any means. I do think that both ‘We Are The Nightmare’ and their latest album ‘Starve For The Devil’ are COLOSSAL missed opportunities however. They both succumb to the fatal flaw of melodic technical death metal; variation coming at the expense of sensation. Melodic Death Metal is capable of creating sensations that the more technical side of death metal could aid in expressing fully and without the cliche bands like Children Of Bodom specialize in. Like any mixture, there can’t be too much of one element so as to overpower the other and render the experiment useless. If a band is too far melodic, the technicality is rendered as superfluous as lipstick on a warthog. If the technicality is overbearing, the melody serves as the ultimate clash making what should be both beautiful and intense jumbled and uninteresting. Arsis is the latter rather than the former. They’ve already demonstrated an ability to balance both elements on ‘A Celebration Of Guilt’, so the failure of ‘We Are The Nightmare’ to make progress is baffling. There are genuinely good ideas here ruined by the neglect of consistency. ‘Starve For The Devil’ makes even further strides in the wrong direction, leading me to think that Arsis have utterly forgotten what made their music work in the first place.
In conclusion, if someone were to edit all of the first 35 seconds across ‘We Are The Nightmare’ into one song, I’d listen to it for experimentation’s sake. As it currently exists, I cannot recommend it. For those of you curious about Arsis, seek out ‘A Celebration Of Guilt’ and remain in a placid isle of ignorance about the rest of their work.
Now, before all of the established Arsis fans grab pliers and blowtorches, consider this; there was in fact a band that fully realized the ideal of Arsis and several other noteworthy bands they entirely surpassed in complete originality. They were both blisteringly technical and wonderfully melodic/progressive. Their only full length release ‘Elvenefris’ is available online from The Czech Republic. I am of course referring to Lykathea Aflame. While not exactly melodic technical death metal, Lykathea Aflame is singlehandedly responsible for rendering almost every melodic death metal release irrelevant. Between the progressive fusion of Death Metal and Egyptian Music, the ‘None So Vile’ era technicality and the breathtakingly beautiful melody, I’d be willing to wager that ‘Elvenefris’ is more than capable of shifting your perception of what melody and progressive elements should be in Death Metal. Perhaps it would also make you reconsider getting medieval on my ass.